Meet the PA Locals Making a Difference With Meals on Wheels


For 10 years, two KenCrest Community-Based Services individuals have volunteered with Meals on Wheels to get out into their community.

By Sydney Kerelo

In 2012, 15- and 16-year-old Zach and Jimmy joined KenCrest's ACES Program while attending Norristown High School to get involved with Community-Based Services within their neighborhoods. Their first assignment was to help deliver food to neighboring communities through Meals on Wheels. They would wake up early every Saturday, load up the Meals on Wheels van, and set off on their route, ensuring that each senior received a warm meal and a friendly smile. Almost 11 years later, the dynamic duo continues volunteering with the organization through KenCrest's Community-Based Services Meaningful Day program.

"They're both very active and didn't want to be cooped up in a day program all day," says KenCrest's Meaningful Day Coordinator, Joan Prinzivalli. "So they joined the community program at KenCrest so they could be out and about. They're both nonverbal but capable of doing anything they set their minds to. And you can clearly see how much they enjoy making relationships with the people they visit and giving back to the community." The 'Meaningful Day' program at KenCrest is designed to provide individuals with disabilities like Zach and Jimmy with opportunities to engage with their community, pursue their interests, and develop their skills, fostering a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their daily lives.

At the time, KenCrest's ACES program—Alternative Careers Education Supports Program (ACES)—provided school districts with third-party support designed for people in the 18-21 age range looking to transition to the next stage in their lives. The program combines classroom activities focused on job readiness with various community-based options, like volunteering.

Zach and Jimmy were very young to participate in the program, but both parents advocated strongly for them because they knew how much they wanted to give back to their communities.

Once the duo graduated from Norristown High School, they transitioned into KenCrest's Community-Based Meaningful Day program, where Community Connection Coaches partner with individuals and encourage them to participate in hobbies, classes, events, or outings that interest them. These coaches provide guidance, support, and advocacy, helping individuals like Zach and Jimmy navigate their communities and pursue their interests. Zach and Jimmy chose to continue volunteering with Meals on Wheels—an organization that has been delivering meals to senior neighbors in the Philadelphia area since 1954.

Jimmy and Zach // Photo courtesy of Joan Prinzivalli
Jimmy and Zach // Photo courtesy of Joan Prinzivalli
Zach and Jimmy // Photo courtesy of Joan Prinzivalli

After graduation, Zach and Jimmy transitioned from working with Prinzivalli to working with a Community Connection Coach from the Community-Based services program.

Chris Owens started working at KenCrest 10 years ago as a Community Connection Coach and has worked with Zach and Jimmy since the beginning, helping to keep the duo together. His dedication and support have been instrumental in their growth and success.

"Both of them have grown significantly since starting," says Owens. "Jimmy is very eager, and at first, he would drag his feet getting out of the van and was uncomfortable going up to people's doors. But now, Jimmy jumps out of the van, gladly grabs the meals, and goes up to the doors; he's been way more accepting. And Zach is the same way; he knows what to do and will do it proudly. They look at each other and help each other out. Their confidence has soared, and they've become more independent and self-assured, all thanks to their volunteer work with Meals on Wheels."

Owens takes a group of two to four people with him to volunteer throughout the week. He covers a different area daily, including Pottsgrove, Pottstown, Sanatoga, and Stowe. Plus, he partners with other individuals to volunteer at Operation 143, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit that helps students experiencing childhood hunger by delivering bags filled with nonperishable items, like tuna, fruit cups, spaghettiOs, etc.

"Volunteering is good for the people we support to be in the community," says Owens. "It kind of forces the people we support to go out and converse with people in the community. Even those who are nonverbal smile and wave, doing something they normally wouldn't do. And the seniors love them; they don't see them as individuals with disabilities but as nice smiling faces. The seniors eagerly await their visits, cherishing the warm meals and the even warmer company that Zach and Jimmy provide."